By Rabbi Avrohom Brashevitzky
Chabad Jewish Center of Doral, FL
My mind began to swarm with so many thoughts and emotions after reading the short yet very weighty article on COLlive about the documentary that Mrs. Chana Sharfstein is producing about her daughter’s life and the enormous challenges she endured (“she” the mom and “she” the daughter; I don’t know who more and who less…)
In order to make some sense of all my thinking, I decided to sit down and formulate it into writing with the hopes of it making some sense to me and perhaps to you the reader.
I recall a particular story which I experienced many years ago as a bochur on Shlichus in Kharkov. There was a middle-aged couple who were involved with and continuously helped the Shliach, Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz, in many ways. This couple was always coming and going in the shul and the Shliach’s home. Naturally they were very friendly with the bochurim and always tried to help us in every way possible.
Once, while having a conversation, the wife, Agnessa, mentioned that she remembered a little Yiddish from her early childhood as it was spoken in her home up to a certain point. I was very curious as to when and why they stopped conversing in Yiddish. She explained that she doesn’t remember much but she recalls that her father was summoned one evening never to be seen again.
That’s when her mother (perhaps out of fear) changed the way they spoke and behaved in their home. Needless to say she grew up with almost no Yiddishkiet. Was her father one of the many Chassidim who “disappeared” in the Soviet darkness for their “terrible crimes”? I don’t know, nor did she. But, her maiden name was Dabruskin and her father was a Chabad chossid.
What’s my point in relating this story?
Many times, when I read the inspiring stories about the many chassidim who risked everything to continue Yiddishkeit and fight for Yiddishe Chinuch, I think of the sadness of this story. All those chassidim (who of course did what they did purely for the purpose of the inyan itself yet) who managed to survive and leave the Soviet “paradise” had a name; a face. Their stories and certainly their families live on and continue to inspire.
But what about all those nameless heroes who are not here to tell their stories? What about those whose families were like collateral damage and continued to die long after the chossid himself died?
Certainly they are the greater heroes. They sacrificed so much more and never got the opportunity to celebrate their victories nor leave anyone to tell their story. Truth be said, there are many mentions of certain chassidim who vanished or paid the ultimate price. But they have names, faces, families or colleagues who were there to tell their story.
Yet, to us the younger generation, one cannot compare the impact that the mention of Reb Mendel Futerfas‘s name would have on us to one of the melamdim in a remote cheder somewhere in Russia who never made it home; who never got to raise his family as Chassidim.
Certainly we must conclude that Hashem Himself knows! Hashem keeps count and knows all the “heroes.” Perhaps they will never get celebrated by us, as we are only human and we relate best to things that are tangible. At least so much as a name, a face, a story. We don’t have the ability to recognize these great heroes, not because they aren’t great enough, rather because they are so great that we don’t get to know them, to appreciate them. I don’t know this as a fact but these are my feelings.
PROUD OF A “NORMAL” CHILD
I would apply the same idea to a parent of a special needs child. Before you decide that I’m crazy, please take a few moments to hear my argument.
It’s a great feeling and a very natural reaction to be a proud parent of a “normal” child. Especially if that child is doing well in school, socially and behaviorally. Certainly we enjoy the credit and respect for the successes of our children. After all, it wouldn’t make sense to look down upon a father who’s son is a big Rov or Mashpia. Nor would it be appropriate to ignore the contributions of a great mother for the obvious results visible in her successful children.
My point: It’s quiet easy to be a “good” parent and a “proud” parent when all goes well. When the cookie cutter is producing healthy good kids – it is so much easier to “live life”; to be positive, to love, to enjoy your children etc.
Now, let’s look at the parent of a special child.
Of course we all heard about the “special Neshama” thing. You know, the thing you hear as soon as (R”L) a special needs child is born to you. You hear about the tremendous Zchus and how Hashem has a reason for them being that way etc.
Do not misunderstand me – I’m not doubting that at all. Believe me, I’ve said it in the past. Only now, I really believe it! But, as “lucky” as one is to be chosen to raise a special needs child – no one is running to be the hero!
We all know the story the Baal-Shem-Tov told the parents of the 3-year-old child that died. However, as great as it is and as much as we can repeat the story and perhaps even understand it – no one is yearning to have this zechus!
THE REAL HEROES
A real hero is one who after having to contend with the difficulty of having and raising a special needs child can still love, show love, have the energy to function, enjoy live, have the same stamina and interest in Ruchniyus and pursuit of The Rebbe’s Inyonim and just be content and happy.
However, because of the nature of the situation with the child they may never get to “celebrate” their heroism in public. There won’t be any opportunities to go up with your child on stage in front of the whole school to receive his award. Nor will there be the moment you can finally count on them to do the errands for you.
Yes, certainly Hashem has a reason. There’s a purpose for which that Neshama is here and in the state it’s in and to the parents it has. But, it still is not as easy to enjoy as walking with your son who’s a successful Shliach, father, person etc. or your daughter who’s a successful Mechaneches, mother, person etc.
I’m confident that I successfully made my point.
To Mrs. Sharfstein,
I must confess that I never really understood this before. Even if I were able to say the same exact words, still I didn’t really understand it, therefore I couldn’t really mean it. Perhaps now I do understand it a little better.
Ever since our baby boy was born with Down Syndrome, I began to “catch up” on understanding things I never understood before in my life. Still, we are in such different times today, there is so much available compared to when your daughter was born (yet, it is still so difficult). I cannot even imagine the amount of strength, Emunah and determination it required to do what you did.
Rabbi and Mrs. Sharfstein, you are my heroes.
You were given a most difficult task in life. You found and gave love to your daughter and believed every moment had a purpose. You didn’t get the normal rewards a parent gets when they raise their child but you persevered. You did what you had to do to raise this child Hashem gave you!
You are every parent’s hero.